Miners in Colombia Unfairly Punished, USW Tells State Department

Contact: Dan Kovalik, 412-335-6442

PITTSBURGH, Sept. 18 -- United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard has written to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to express grave concern over the punishment of miners whose union struck Drummond Co.'s Colombia operations over safety conditions that led to the death of a colleague.

Drummond has fired the entire executive board of the local Drummond union of Sintramienergetica, and has petitioned the Colombian Labor Ministry for permission to fire 4,000 or so unionized workers in retaliation for the work stoppage, Gerard told Secretary Clinton in a letter dated Sept. 17, 2009.

Thousands of miners put down their tools in March, a day after worker Dagoberto Clavijo was killed when the truck he was driving fell into a Drummond open pit mine in northern Colombia. The union maintained that driving surfaces were unsafe.

The miners had the right to conduct the work stoppage under Colombian law and ILO Conventions 87 & 98 to protest the fatality, one of numerous workplace deaths in Drummond's dangerous coal mines.

Gerard's letter also noted a Colombian judge has ordered top Drummond executives, including the company's U.S.-based president, Garry Drummond, and Augusto Jimenez, president of the Colombian operations, be criminally investigated for allegedly conspiring with paramilitaries to carry out the 2001 murder of three union leaders -- Valmore Locarno, Victor Orcasita and Gustavo Soler.

Gerard asked the State Department to pressure the Colombian government to stop the firings, order Drummond to improve mine safety conditions and continue the investigation into the deaths of the union leaders.

A copy of the letter may be viewed at http://usw.org/clinton_letter.

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